It was dangerous. Like code-red dangerous.

I was in over my head, but more than that, like so much of my relationship with Gavin—I was completely beyond my control.

There was no way of knowing what might happen next, who he might be tomorrow, though I would love him just the same. The scariest part was not knowing how Gavin felt about me. Or if he was capable of giving in to the feeling of love at all.

There were times I would catch him looking at me, his eyes soft with something that made my heart warm and my knees weak. But it wasn’t enough.

I wanted more. The big, splashy, over-the-top love. The happy ending. Even more than he wanted this damned pellet gun.

My mind reeling, I tried to get my head on straight as I made it to the prize booth and grinned at the bored-looking man behind the counter.

“Look,” I said. “I know the foam dart gun costs—”

“Forty bucks.”

“What?” I asked, blinking.

“My boss isn’t here,” he said, scratching at his stubbled chin. “I’ll give it to you for forty dollars.”

I pursed my lips and gave him the side-eye, sizing him up. “Sixty for two of them. Final offer.”

He nodded, then pulled the guns from the case and set them on the counter beside my money. “Anything else?”

I glanced at the wad of tickets still in my hand. “What will five hundred tickets get me?”

“Temporary tattoos,” he said. “They’re of Care Bears.”

“Perfect.”

I handed over my tickets and accepted the packet of tattoos before rushing to the bathroom to grab a paper towel with cold water. Laughing at myself, I adhered the tattoo, then removed each of the guns from their packaging and loaded their ammo holsters.

Finally, I was ready. Armed with a blue Care Bear on my cheek, I rushed into battle with one gun on my hip and the other in my hand.

Luckily, Gavin wasn’t hard to find. He was walking casually toward the bathrooms, looking for me, no doubt.

“What happened? You were gone for—”

I lifted my hand and fired, hitting him dead center in the chest with a foam pellet.

He laughed. “How did you—”

I shot him again, this time in the forehead.

“Do that again and I’m going to have to put you over my knee and punish you.”

His dark voice sent a sweet shiver down my spine, and I was half tempted to do it again, just to see if he’d make good on his promise. Before I got the chance, though, he lunged for me and grabbed the spare gun.

I lifted my weapon to fire when he shot me in the boob.

“Constant vigilance,” he warned, looking smug.

“Where was your constant vigilance when I was owning you a minute ago?”

“Everyone knows it’s not honorable to shoot an unarmed man. I thought you had more class than that. I guess I was wrong.” He shot me again, this time in the shoulder. “Nice bear, by the way.”

“Thanks. Now, prepare to die.”

I took off at a sprint in the other direction, running in a serpentine pattern, careful to duck for shelter as a foam dart whizzed past my ear.

For what felt like hours, we rushed around the arcade, shooting at each other until we were both breathless, out of ammo, and too exhausted to look for any more.

It was dark outside, and the staff had started cleaning up. I knew what that meant and I think Gavin did too, but I wanted to stop it. To go back in time and relive this day over and over, watching the joy on his face as he played each game for the very first time.

I wasn’t ready to say good-bye to today. Not yet. But then Ben texted me, letting me know he was back for our scheduled pickup, and our time was up.

Gavin found me crouched outside a photo booth and held his hand out for me. “Time to go,” he said simply, and though his face was impassive, I knew he was just as affected as I was.

I nodded. “Okay.”

Together, we made our way to the limo and buckled in, each grabbing a water from the mini-fridge inside. For a while, we sat in silence, staring out the window and wondering what came next, but then Gavin surprised me.

“You were right,” he said. “I’ve never had a day like today in all my life, Emma. Thank you for that. I can’t tell you what it means to me.”

I offered him a soft smile. “It was my pleasure. Really.”

He studied me for a long moment. “I . . . I never got the chance to do those things, you know, because my childhood wasn’t normal. Not just in the way that we were too poor for vacations and arcades.”

I stayed silent, knowing this was my time to listen, not to speak.

“It’s difficult for me to talk about.” He spread his hands wide. “But I feel like . . . Well, I want you to know. Everything.”

I nodded, encouraging him to continue.

“My mother was a good woman. She did her best.” He took a sip of his water, his strong throat working as he looked out the window into the night. “But she had no real skills, and three children to feed and care for.”

“What about your father?”

Gavin shook his head, his gaze returning to mine. “I hardly remember him. He took off right after Cooper was born. I think I was maybe six? My mother did what she had to do to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads.”

I swallowed, nodding again. “I understand.”

“You saw where we grew up—it wasn’t exactly bustling with opportunity. It was all low-paying jobs and no room for advancement. But still, it took me a long time to accept that my mother worked as a prostitute.”

I reached over and took Gavin’s hand, the words hanging in the air between us. I couldn’t even imagine the things he must have seen.

“When we were older, we’d help her where we could. We got odd jobs and would protect her from the johns when she needed it. Quinn did most of the heavy lifting, and we both did a lot to shield Cooper from whatever we could. But we were still kids, and that was all we could do. When she died . . . it was a tragedy and a relief.”

I remained silent, hoping to show him with my expression how much I cared. How heartsick I was for his pain. And, most of all, how honored I was that he’d finally told me this.

“Then it was just the three of us and we only knew how to do one thing—protect women. We weren’t in the market to be pimps and we didn’t want to exploit anyone, but we’d been around enough casinos and nightclubs with our mother to know there was a lot of money available for a woman who was willing to look good on someone’s arm.” He shrugged. “So, we started Forbidden Desires. Now, of course, we make a better living than we ever dreamed of, and we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from. But sometimes it still feels strange to realize how far I’ve come, and how much all three of us and my poor mother had sacrificed to get here.”

I had no words. The shock, the sadness, it was all overwhelming, threatening to consume me. I’d had guesses about what their life might have been like, but nothing came close to this. Nothing came close to the true horror of their childhood.

“I’m so sorry, Gavin.”

He shook his head. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. The past is in the past. But I just . . . I just wanted you to know.”

“Thank you,” I said softly. With a jolt, I realized we were sitting outside my brownstone, the car idling as we spoke.

I nodded toward the door. “Do you want to come inside?”

He shook his head. “Not tonight.”

Moving toward me, he cupped my cheek in his hand and pulled my lips to his, sweeping me up in the most heart-aching kiss of my life. It was soft and tender and everything Gavin wasn’t. Or, at least, everything I’d thought he wasn’t until now.

When we broke apart, my heart sank as I climbed from the car and made my way up the steps to my house. Rain drizzled on the cold city streets, and I watched the limo pull back onto the asphalt, zooming into the night.

Even though it was raining, I couldn’t bring myself to go inside until I couldn’t see the limo anymore. Like, if I just waited here on this step for a few more minutes, Gavin might come back and tell me all the other things I wanted to know.

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